Slew of city facilities set for facelifts after Thursday council meeting

MARFA – Marfa City Council waded through a packed agenda on Thursday evening last week, advancing plans to improve various city facilities, from the fire department to the USO and the Marfa Activity Center pool.

Fire Chief Gary Mitschke and Marfa resident Zeke Raney gave a presentation on long-anticipated plans to expand the fire department’s bay. The city has budgeted for the expansion multiple times, but efforts to begin construction have yet to get off the ground.

Currently, the fire department has a small bay, with an open air lot behind it. There, vehicles parked behind the main bay are exposed to harsh elements, which causes faster deterioration. The plans presented by Raney would more than double the size of the bay, offering covered, temperature-controlled space for the department to store its vehicles and equipment.

The expansion would also install a kitchenette, a storage and wash area for bunker gear that has contaminants, and an ADA-compliant restroom with showers. It would also give city EMS (whose facilities are south of the railroad tracks) the opportunity to keep a backup ambulance in the facility north of the tracks, so that emergency response wouldn’t be as disrupted by a stopped train.

Raney, who runs local architectural firm Mud Lab with partner Elizabeth Farrell, is a volunteer firefighter in Marfa who volunteered his time to draw up the proposed building expansion plans for the fire department building.

“I just wanted council to know we haven’t given up on this. We appreciate the funds that you have allocated toward this and we intend to use them,” Mitschke said. “I’m willing to work any way to get this done.”

Councilmember Yoseff Ben-Yehuda, also a volunteer firefighter, said they will ask the county for financial assistance on the project, since the county depends on the city’s fire department.

The fire department has often opened its space up to be an emergency facility for any event that happens, and it’s used for a variety of things that go beyond the fire department, like county elections. City Attorney Teresa Todd said that if the facility is equipped with backup generation and could be used as a shelter, both the county and city could likely use American Rescue Act funds toward building it out.

Council approved the proposed design for the volunteer fire department building; the next step will be a bidding phase, where a bid proposal is created and put out for bidders.

Later in the meeting, council also voted to solicit design services for the addition of ADA-compliant bathrooms to the USO Building’s Garden Pavilion through issuing a Request for Proposals, which is the final improvement planned for the USO Garden Pavilion project.

The plans for reopening the city pool this summer are still in limbo, with a few moving parts holding up the decision of whether to open for the summer season. “We need to get mechanical fixed, we need bathrooms and we need lifeguards,” said Ben-Yehuda, summing up the dilemmas at the MAC Building’s swimming facility.

While the pool pump is ready to go, the city is waiting on electrical repairs on the motor. Once complete, they will have to fill the pool to check for leaks or mechanical problems.

Mayor pro tem Irma Salgado flagged another perennial issue at the facility. The bathrooms at the pool are in poor shape, with dilapidated tiling. Salgado worried about the safety of the restrooms, and whether the broken tiling could cause cuts.

Councilmember Eddie Pallarez responded, volunteering to take a look at the bathrooms and ask contractors for estimates on repairing or replacing tiling.

Earlier in the meeting, Councilmember Buck Johnston was appointed to the Parks and Recreation Board, filling Mayor Manny Baeza’s seat after a decade of service, and Salgado was re-appointed to her seat. Johnston laid her cards on the table, telling her fellow council members, “I got on the Parks Board because I’m going to be working towards a new pool for the city of Marfa. We need it.”

In the meantime, council seemed unsure whether the current pool would be able to staff up on lifeguards, since they did not want to hire before the mechanical and bathroom issues were resolved. “As far as opening up the pool this summer, I don’t know how soon we could do it. We’re going to need lifeguards as well. I don’t know if you want to open for a month or two or table this item until the repairs are done.”

Council voted to table the pool reopening, and will discuss it again at their first June meeting.